This is more of a philosophical view on cooking and nutrition than pure intellectual and scientific knowledge. I realize that not everyone is as into nutrition as I am and I can appreciate that. I was not always into nutrition either. I was and will always be a foodee. I can thank my mother for that. Although I did not realize it for many years, she actually introduced me and my family to some unusual and exotic foods. She regularly made some unusual and probably low cost dishes like borscht, liver and onions(which I would not eat), cows tongue, homemade wine and TV dinners for a treat. I think I liked the TV dinners more so than the exotics but at least I was exposed, which paid off later in life. I would reluctantly eat some of these “unusual” dishes but get excited while digging into the tiny aluminum compartments of a TV dinner. Why do kids like this tasteless and nutrient devoid table fare? Today I wouldn’t feed this to any mammal that I care about.
Learning the art and language of food is a process. Oftentimes, I hear people tell me that they grew up on a farm and always ate healthy foods. Why not go back to some of those fundamental foods? During WW2, Victory Gardens were popular in the US. Grocery stores were not what they are now and some foods were scarce. People planted their own gardens to help the war effort. It is so easy to have a few small plants like herbs that can be used in everyday cooking. Instead of spending all that money on watering expensive and thirsty grass, use it to water plants that give back. Recycle vegetable trimmings to fertilize more vegetable growth. It is easy, cost effective, ecologically sustainable and can be done by most anyone.
Keep track of the process and continue to learn about this wonderful language. A good start is the fact that you are reading this article on what I have learned about ancestral eating.
It is well known that food is much different now than in the relatively recent (100 years) past.
Many methods of cooking and food preparation have become a relic while being relegated to being old fashioned and out of style. What was once considered healthy and sacred has become taboo and unspoken. Why are practices like eating the organs and soaking beans, aging meats, fermenting vegetables, cooking carcasses and bones no longer popular? There are actually many reasons. Progression, technology, automation, refrigeration, antibacterial, to name a few. Before refrigeration, many foods were fermented or dried and salted. Mass production of most foods, including meats and vegetables makes them readily available year round at low cost. Modern preservation methods using synthetic or industrial chemicals are low cost and available.
Pay now or pay later. With most foods, you truly do get what you pay for. Ever go to a restaurant and get free bread or chips or some other processed carb with free refills? That is because it’s cheap food, plain and simple. You would rarely get free quality protein or organic vegetables. I don’t recall ever.
Part of my mission is to help fuel the renaissance of cooking from scratch. I take it a step further and grow and hunt/fish for my food any chance I get.
Humans have spent many thousands of years learning how best to prepare food and figuring out what and what not to eat. We have now managed to forget many of these techniques and rely on technology. I relate this to Eastern medicine and how it has been used effectively for thousands of years, now pushed aside by modern practices. Humans have been practicing agriculture for a lot less time than they have been hunter/gatherers.
In this article are some practices that I have learned in practice and research and nutrition school.
I have also learned that the best chefs employ methods or strategies to provide the the maximum nutrient value in their cooking. In Escoffier’s cookbook, which was originally written in the late 19th century and not translated until 1975. In his cookbook, Auguste Escoffier reveals early techniques that are still used by the finest chefs.
Ideally, humans need a good variety of locally sourced plant and animal based foods. By variety, I mean nose to tail animal parts (meat on the bone), plants and herbs that can be locally gathered and or grown, fermented and naturally aged plant and animal products.
I have never been a liver eater but I am weaning myself onto a diet of more organ meats and other highly nutritious but unusual foods. Beef heart is the gateway organ meat. Tender and moist when cooked medium rare, it reminds me of a very high quality steak. Once I got into beef heart I started venturing out into the world of liver. My foray into chicken liver pate has deepened and I believe my taste for this has developed into a new favorite food. Contrary to popular belief, the liver does process toxins but it doesn’t store them. Toxins are stored in fatty tissue. What the liver actually stores is vitamins(A,D,E,K,B12,B9) and minerals(copper,iron,zinc). Organ meats are far more nutritious than muscle meats while still high in protein.
Preparing plant based foods- Plants don’t always have to be eaten raw. Some plants should be cooked to free up the nutrients. Cooking can and does destroy some of the vitamins. Minerals cannot be destroyed but they can be extracted through cooking processes such as boiling. Many plants that we regularly eat have their own built in defense system, one of them being from a group of thousands of proteins called lectins (gluten is a lectin). Some people are more susceptible than others. Take the common tomato. The seeds and skin of this fruit is actually toxic to some and should be removed. This is a forgotten practice. Do what the Italians and French learned over two centuries ago and peel and deseed tomatoes. Same thing with all nightshades. This may sound extreme, but if you are dealing with suspected food allergies it may be wise to try the old ways of food prep.
Chop garlic and let sit for at least 15 minutes to allow it to create the healthful compounds before cooking.
Traditional cultures took great care in preparing their legumes. When it comes to dried beans (other than lentils, mung and split pea), it is imperative to give them a good soaking for at least 12-24 hours prior to cooking. This partially removes the lectins and phytic acid which are slightly toxic. Doing this step will reduce stomach upset and digestive issues that is commonly caused by the antinutrients in legumes. Soaking also makes the beans more nutritious. Pressure cooking is the perfect method for cooking beans.
Sweet potato leaves! This may seem unusual, but when have you ever seen these in the store or produce market? We grow sweet potatoes at home and eat the leaves like spinach. Sweet potato leaves have a pleasant nutty flavor. As with any green, you need to cook with or add to them, a fat or oil. This helps to absorb the fat soluble vitamins in the leaves. I like to saute whatever green leaves I have on hand in butter or avocado oil or pastured bacon fat.
I now save all fish heads when cleaning fish. These make the best stock to be used in many seafood dishes. One that I have made often is cioppino or fisherman’s stew. Once you have the basic fish stock you can do whatever you want with it. The nutrients and collagen that are extracted when cooking down connective tissues far surpass the usual fare of muscle fiber.
I mostly catch my own fish but when I do buy, I mostly buy the wild stuff. I don’t really care what color my salmon meat is as long as it is not dyed. Wild salmon is a natural pink color because of what it eats.
Wild game– Probably the best source of meat. Here is nature at its finest. Animals that forage and hunt in their natural habitat. If you don’t hunt your own consider befriending a hunter. Alternatives to wild game that come very close are bison that come from bison ranches. These are raised in a natural environment which is reflected in the nutrients. There are some sources of venison but it is not as common.
What about bread? I’ll let you in on something I am working on, somewhat of a secret project. I have been doing a good bit of research on the subject of sourdough bread making. This started, oddly enough from my research for this very article and the fact that my kids like to eat bread. I have been a long time opponent of bread and I still am but to a different degree.
I’m actually not opposed to all bread just most bread sold in stores and especially American bread made with modified American grains. I used to say that if I were to eat bread, I would only do so in Europe and then it would have to be of the sourdough variety. Ancient peoples figured out how to make bread in a much more healthful and nutritious way. These methods are long forgotten by mainstream. Now bread is made quickly and in large volume without regard to nutrition. An exception to this is the popular sprouted grain breads which are nutritionally superior to the commercial breads. I am now actually on my way to making my own sourdough starter and sourdough bread using the ancient spelt flour. I will have plenty to say about this in the coming weeks.
Bread can easily fit in with my Omnivorous Predator philosophy. Food comes in many versions and the idea here is to seek out the best versions. Just as in comparing conventional meat to pasture raised meat, you might compare commercial bread made with modern ingredients to a different kind of bread made with ancient techniques and high quality ingredients. What I am describing is sourdough bread made with non gmo flour and home grown yeast from bacteria out of thin air.
The premise of sourdough bread is that bacteria(lactobacilli) and wild yeast form a symbiotic relationship with each other while creating healthy acids that neutralize the antinutrients and break down gluten of the wheat. This process allows one to easily digest gluten and makes nutrients available that would otherwise be unavailable. Another advantage of this transformation is that it now is a probiotic loaded with the supportive good bacteria that feed our digestive system. However, not everyone can handle the slightest amount of any gluten or other grain based proteins and not to mention the fact that all bread raises blood sugar. My message here is to be cautious and discriminating when it comes to bread. If you must eat bread, be responsible and go for sourdough or sprouted grains, or even better, make it yourself.
One of the most sustainable and under rated meats. Better than chicken nutritionally. As in all animal processing, many nutritious tidbits by utilizing the entire carcass.
I’m making this a regular part of my food program since there is a local source of rabbit meat. Rabbits are sustained by eating pasture foods like grass and alfalfa. They have an almost perfect balance of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acid profile and they multiply very rapidly. Although relatively low in fat, (other fats can be added during cooking) rabbit is very versatile and has a mild flavor like chicken only more delicate. Look to see more rabbit meat becoming available in the near future.
When it comes to food, cooking and nutrition, there is always something new to learn. It is a lifelong process for me and I am truly passionate about learning and teaching this to others. Humans figured out food long ago, they also figured out how to change food in a not so healthy way in more recent times. Thousands of years were spent developing and learning how food nourishes the body versus only about 100 years figuring out how to make food cheap and convenient. I am putting my trust and health into the old ways as I learn, write and teach about these ways in my journey.
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Crandall, Russ, 2013, “The Ancestral Table- Traditional Recipes For A Paleo Lifestyle”, Las Vegas, NV, Victory Belt Publishing”,
Escoffier, Auguste, 1969, “The Escoffier Cookbook- A Guide to the fine Art of French Cuisine”, New York, Crown Publishers.
Gundry, Steven R. MD, 2017, “The Plant Paradox”, New York, Harper Wave.
Kurlansky, Mark, 2002, “Salt-A World History”, Strand London, Penguin Books.
Mather, R., Rabbit: a great meat animal for small homesteads. Mother Earth News, Oct/Nov 2011.
McGee, Harold, 2004, “On Food And Cooking-The Science And Lore Of The Kitchen”, New York, Scribner.
Sanfilippo, Diane, 2016, “Practical Paleo, 2nd Edition”, Las Vegas, Victory Belt Publishing.
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Shanahan, Catherine and Luke, 2016, “Deep Nutrition”, New York, Flatiron Books.
Shaw, Hank, 2011, “Hunt, Gather, Cook-Finding The Forgotten Feast”, New York, Rodale.